(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)
Jamey Hatley is such an inspiring writer. I love the image of her reading as a child, and I love knowing how it made her into the writer she is today:
“It had been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up of themselves like grass. Yet regardless of where they came from, I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them—with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself.”
~Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings
One of my first clear memories is of my mother reading to me before bed. When I was old enough to read on my own, I would often recline upside down in our big armchair with my head resting on a footstool, my body in the seat and my legs up the back. My mother wouldn’t ordinarily allow me to sit in any chair like that, but I guess she indulged me since I was reading. My nephew said recently that I would pull a book from a tall stack and throw the completed ones over my shoulder. I dispute that I would ever throw a book, but I concede to the precarious stacks.
I relish the delicious sensation of entering the world of a book and letting the “real” world slip away. When I read something wonderful, I feel this wild flutter in my chest as if the story is alive inside me. I could not imagine stirring another human with my words, so I studied marketing and public relations instead.
Since books didn’t grow out of the ground, I turned my attention to their makers. Book jacket bios and author photos were never enough to satisfy my curiosity. I learned to scour the public library’s old-fashioned card catalog for books by and about my favorite writers. From those carefully typed see, also cross-reference cards I discovered that there were whole books with interviews of writers. Conversations with James Baldwin, Black Women Writers at Work, Interviews with Black Writers and books like them enthralled me. I devoured these interviews.
At the time this was really the only way I could hear from the writers I loved in their own words. Lines from those interviews shaped me as a writer before I ever wrote a word. For example, in Black Women Writers at Work, Toni Morrison says, “My stories come to me as clichés. A cliché is a cliché because it’s worthwhile. Otherwise, it would have been discarded.” This is most likely the seed that got me thinking about clichés and archetypes that appear in my work.
In a way, without even knowing it, my favorite writers became unwitting mentors to me—answering questions that I didn’t even know to ask. These tiny details about the daily work of writing convinced me that perhaps I could write, too. These interviews provided a tiny, tiny window for me to peek through to find out about the invisible world of the writer.
I still love a smart, rigorous interview. The ones in BOMB are really nice because they intentionally pair certain artists together. These interviews always seem to go deep, and most times in ways you could not predict. I have the four-volume Paris Review Interviews boxed set on my wish list (hint, hint). I also plan to have a Proust Questionnaire party sometime in the near future.
I’ve come a long way since my see-also card-catalog days. I now know all too well that books don’t make themselves. Now that I am a maker of books, when I’m feeling stuck I almost always seek inspiration from writers and artists who have gone before and managed to make art of the world.
Jamey Hatley is a native of Memphis, TN, who believes fiercely in the power of sweet tea and stories to heal. Her writing has appeared in the Oxford American and Torch. She has attended the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, the Voices of Our Nation Writing Workshop and received scholarships to the Oxford American Summit for Ambitious Writers and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. In 2006 she won the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Award for a Novel-in-Progress, which is still in progress. After an undergraduate degree in marketing and a masters in journalism, she received her MFA in creative writing from Louisiana State University. She makes her home in New Orleans, LA.
Read Jamey’s blog at jameyhatley.wordpress.com.
Follow @jameyhatley on Twitter.
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